Can You Play Guitar With Long Nails?

Some people say that you shouldn’t play this instrument if you have long nails. That it will affect your sound, and you won’t be able to create as good of a tone as if you were playing with short nails. But is that accurate?

Yes, you can play the guitar with long nails, but only to a certain length. You’ll also need some practice and patience to get used to playing with them to get a good sound.

And this isn’t an isolated opinion. Some people think that there’s no reason why you shouldn’t play the guitar with long nails, if you can do it, why not?

You may have to find a compromise between length and performance, but it’s possible. Let’s look at some ways to keep the nails and get the best possible sound!

can you play guitar with long nails

Can You Play Guitar With Long Nails?

Playing acoustic or electric guitar with long nails is possible. However, there are limits to what you can play and how it will sound. If you have been considering growing your nails out for a visual effect or just to keep a certain style, you will need to find a balance.

You may find that playing with long nails will hinder your abilities, so it’s important to understand the limitations and benefits. It takes some getting used to and sacrifices will need to be made, but it’s not impossible.

So, can you play guitar with long nails? If you have the patience and determination, playing with them is achievable.

Nails Too Long to Play Guitar

Not all nail lengths are equal when playing the guitar. Some are long and more difficult to play with, but some are medium to short and easier. Most instructors will suggest nails as short as possible, but what length is long?

If you’re talking about nails that go past the end of your fingers about half an inch, these are long and probably not suitable for playing guitar. If we’re talking about nails that only extend a bit past your fingertips, to somewhere around a quarter of an inch, this is better.

The fret and strumming hand do not require similar lengths. It’s more difficult to press notes with longer nails than it is to strum. Keep in mind that if you hold a pick, this could get even more challenging. The pick will be harder to grip due to the longer length.

Any type of lead guitar technique will be impossible if your nails are too long, especially if there are some fast parts like in most metal songs.

Fretting Hand

You’ll probably want to have the nails of your fretting hand a quarter-inch or shorter, as we mentioned above. Some might even go as far as inline with the fingertip for simplicity and ease of use.

If they are a little longer, this still isn’t too bad. You can adjust accordingly to how long they are now by adjusting their shape.

If they are too long, you can always file them down to the desired length and keep practicing them that way. Sometimes you will have to compromise and find the length that is easiest to play but still looks the way you want.

Most serious guitar players will keep them short on this hand because the nail will interfere whether you like it or not.

Try holding your fingers in a curved position instead of flat against the fretboard. This will help prevent you from accidentally muting out certain strings if one or more nails are touching it.

You can also adjust how much force you apply when pressing a note. This will help with speed and accuracy and is recommended even without long nails.

Strumming Hand

For the most part, you can choose whatever length is comfortable for this hand. Because some finger picker style players prefer to use their nails, this has the benefit of a new technique. There seems to be far less of a consensus on how long these should be for this hand.

When it comes to strumming, you want the nails on this hand to be short and rounded at the end or squoval-shaped, so they don’t catch when you strum.

If you use a pick, this can be a benefit. The longer your nails are, the harder it could be to grip the pick. Finding the right shape could help get the perfect contour to hold a pick with more control.

But if you don’t use a pick, then longer nails can be a benefit to your tone on the strumming hand. Learning to pick a string with both the flesh, or your finger and the nail can create a fuller sound.

This is a sound that can’t be replicated with shorter nails and is a technique used by finger pickers.

Strategies That Can Make it Easier to Play With Nails

There are a few things, you can try to find the right length and still be able to play well. It all comes down to trying out a few new things to find the right balance. But it will take longer to learn to play with long nails.

Fretting With Long Nails

Because you will be limited depending on how long your nails are, you can always tune your guitar so that you don’t have to press down with your fingertips. Barring chords in a particular manner can allow you to keep long nails and still perform rhythm parts.

By tuning the guitar to play a chord when strummed open, you can use one finger to barre chords flat across the fretboard. Dolly Parton did this and was able to maintain very long nails and play the guitar.

Now, the amount of harmonically rich parts you can play is limited. But at least you can still keep the nails and play the part. Tune your guitar to an open E and you will have one of the more popular open tuning arrangements normally associated with blues.

Finger Picking

Fingerpicking is a technique used to play strings individually in combinations that produce unique tones. Most people who use this method are known to grow their fingernails, more so than a guitarist who plays with a pick.

This has the benefit of plucking the strings as though you have picks on each finger.

By using your finger and nail together to pluck a string, the sound made is much different from just the flesh alone. It becomes a fuller and brighter sound that is part of the intrigue with finger picking with longer nails.

Another advantage of picking with long nails is that your fingers will be more independent of each other. This gives you the ability to create different types of melodies and harmonies, which can add interest to the songs you write and perform.

And so if you are set on keeping longer nails on your strumming hand, it makes sense to learn how to use this technique,

Finger Force With Long Nails

Even though all guitar players should learn how to use the right force to press notes, having long nails makes this even more important. Because longer nails can essentially slow your movements down, it’s best to learn to play with a light touch.

This can help you determine just how much pressure you need to use to properly play a note. By doing so, it could prevent your nail from making unnecessary contact with any other parts.

And if you ever decide to trim your nails in the future, this lighter touch will help you become a faster, more accurate solo player.

woman playing guitar with long nails

Experiment Playing with Different Length Nails

Trying out different lengths on each hand can also be a benefit. While it’s easier to let your strumming hand nails grow, fretting might be harder.

If you are not happy to simply use an open tuning like mentioned above, then you will need to find a length that you can play with but still provides the look you want.

Most guitarists find that anything over a quarter inch is too much to perform proper solos or even power chords. So you may want to limit your fret hand nails to this length if you are not doing anything too technical.

If they do interfere, file them down a little at a time until you find a length that works. Then simply keep them there and settle on this look. There will be a need for sacrifice, it will either come down to great playability, or long nails in some cases.

Fretting Finger Angle

Another way to adapt to longer nails is to change the angle of your fretting fingers. Longer nails will prevent you from pressing down directly with the fingertip, angle them, and use more of the pad.

This may come with some fret buzz and accuracy issues at first, with some practice you will get used to it.

What to Consider Before Growing your Nails

To produce the clearest, fullest sound on your guitar and be able to switch quickly between chords, it’s easier to keep your nails short, at least on your fretting hand. Should you want to grow them, some things could change:

  • Accuracy of fretted notes decreases
  • Speed of fret hand slows
  • Angle of fret fingers needs to change
  • Possible fret buzz and muting
  • Some chords are unplayable

There are exceptions for your strumming hand! If you play a style of music that emphasizes fingerstyle acoustic guitar or hybrid picking, like classical and country music, you can keep your strumming hand nails longer.

It will require you to learn this new method of playing, but will allow for longer nails. Some benefits are:

  • More harmonically rich notes
  • Improved picking with fingernails
  • Individual string plucking
  • New techniques

One of the biggest issues will be the wear on your strumming hand nails. As you use them, they will wear out, and so keeping them looking nice will take more effort.

Summary

Even if you have long nails, it’s possible to play the guitar. While playing with them will take some getting used to, you can still learn how to once you recognize the obstacles and overcome them. But to be able to switch quickly between chords while playing, it’s easier to keep your nails short.

So if you can find a balance of shorter nails on your fret hand and longer on your strumming, you might find your technique. Experiment until you’re comfortable!

FAQs

There are several questions around the topic of long nails and guitar playing, and so we hope that we can help answer as many as possible for you!

Can I Use Acrylic Nails?

Because Acrylic nails are quite hard and don’t come off easy, it’s very possible to use them while playing guitar. You just need to make sure they are not too long for the technique you plan to use.

If you have extremely long nails, and you cannot even hold a pick, that will be a problem.

So if you plan to use fake nails, just make sure you can play guitar with the new length.

Can you play guitar with gel nails?

Gel nails can be used while playing the guitar, but only if you have trust in them. What we mean by that is, are they strong and will they support guitar playing?

If you are using them to pick, and one falls off because of the adhesive letting go, what will you do? Can you still keep performing during a show or performance?

Another thing to consider is whether you have had enough time to practice with them? If you put on gel nails, and they are longer than you are used to, will you be able to play the guitar during a gig?

When using gel nails, make sure to use one length, as practice will be required to adapt to them.

Do I Need Long Nails To Finger Pick?

While long fingernails are a benefit to certain players, not everyone likes them. Luckily, it’s not necessary to have long nails to finger pick. Either way you choose, the technique will be similar.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!